THOUGHTS ON THE DAILY DAF
brought to you by Kollel Iyun Hadaf of Har Nof
Rosh Kollel: Rav Mordecai Kornfeld
Ask A Question about the Daf
BECHOROS 7-10 - Ari Kornfeld has generously sponsored the Dafyomi
publications for these Dafim for the benefit of Klal Yisrael.
1) THE IDENTITY OF "BENEI YAMA"
OPINIONS: The Beraisa relates that "Dolfinin" reproduce like people, or
from people (according to the Girsa of the SHITAH MEKUBETZES and RASHI).
The Gemara asks what are these "Dolfinin," and Rav Yehudah answers that
they are "Benei Yama." What exactly are these Benei Yama?
2) FISH BEFORE THE TIME OF YONAH
(a) According to the Girsa of the Gemara as it appears in our texts,
"Dolfinin" may refer simply to a type of cetacean mammal, such as the
whale or dolphin. This is especially likely, considering the similarity in
the words themselves. Dolphins indeed reproduce "like people," bearing
live offspring (instead of laying eggs like fish). They also are one of
the most intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom, and thus the
appellation of "men of the sea" is fitting.
The TOSEFTA (1:5 describes Dolfinin further and says that they "bear and
raise young as man does." This can be understood to mean that they cohabit
"face to face," as dolphins indeed do, and that they nurse their young
with milk and stay with them even after they start to mature, unlike other
fish and animals.
The MUSAF HA'ARUCH (Erech "Dolfin") records that the Greeks and Romans
referred to a certain large fish (perhaps the dolphin) with these
characteristics as "the man of the sea."
(b) However, according to the Girsa of RASHI and TOSFOS (DH ha'Dolfinin,
based on a version of the Tosefta that does not appear in our texts), the
Benei Yama reproduce "*from*" humans. Since interbreeding between dolphins
and humans is not possible, these Dolfinin must refer to a much more
humanlike creature, as Rashi (DH Benei Yama) explains: "there are fish in
the sea whose form is half-human and half-fish." Rashi translates the
"Benei Yama" as "sereine" in Old French. Rashi clearly is referring to the
siren, or mermaid, a mystical creature with the tail of a fish in place of
The TORAS KOHANIM (Parshas Shemini 3:7) also discusses a creature called
the "Sironis," which the ARUCH (Erech "Sironis") and RA'AVAD describe as a
siren or mermaid. The Toras Kohanim says that we might have thought that
the corpse of a "Sironis" is Metamei b'Ohel (like the corpse of a dead
person), and thus the Torah specifically excludes it (Rebbi Chanina argues
and maintains that it is Metamei b'Ohel). Translating the "Sironis" as a
siren or mermaid is supported by the fact that the Toras Kohanim finds it
necessary to enlist a verse to teach that this creature is not Metamei
b'Ohel like a person.
The RA'AVAD explains the logic for why a Sironis could be Metamei b'Ohel.
The Torah tells us that Tum'as Ohel applies to "Kol Nefesh Adam" (*any*
soul of a person), which might include anything that people call "man" --
such as the siren, which is called "the man of the deep." In that case,
whether or not mermaids actually exist, it is necessary for the Torah to
teach us that they are not Metamei b'Ohel. We must know how to deal with
other sea-creatures to which people commonly refer as "man of the sea"
(such as dolphins) or a similar name, due to their similarity in some
respect to man. (M. Kornfeld)
(For an extensive and comprehensive discussion of the identity of the
"Dolfinin," including an additional proposal as to the identity of the
creature, see the research of Rabbi Nosson Slifkin (www.zootorah.com) in
his book, MYSTERIOUS CREATURES -- INTRIGUING TORAH ENIGMAS OF NATURAL AND
UNNATURAL HISTORY, Targum Press 2003.)
QUESTION: The Gemara says that only man, fish, and snakes cohabit "face to
face," unlike all other creatures. The Gemara explains that the reason why
fish reproduce in this manner is because Hashem spoke to fish (as related
in Yonah 2:11, when Hashem told the fish to return Yonah to dry land).
Does this mean that fish changed their nature at that point in history,
such that before Hashem spoke to the fish, they reproduced like other
animals, and after Hashem spoke to the fish, they reproduced like man,
"face to face"?
ANSWER: RAV YAKOV EMDEN explains that Hashem originally created fish to
behave in this manner, because in the future He would speak to them.
3) "SHOW US A LIE"
AGADAH: The Gemara records a series of exchanges between Rebbi Yehoshua
and the Elders of Athens. When read literally, their words seem to be
nothing more than meaningless chatter. It is not conceivable, though, that
the great Rebbi Yehoshua and the wisest men of the Roman Empire would
involve themselves in debating such trivial matters. It must be,
therefore, that the dialogue between Rebbi Yehoshua and the Elders of
Athens involved deeply profound matters that touch upon the most
fundamental aspects of our existence. Their words were veiled in
allegories, and the lessons that they teach involve profound truths about
Jewish destiny. (See also Insights to Bava Basra 73:1.)
In one of the interactions recorded by the Gemara, the Elders of Athens
said to Rebbi Yehoshua, "Show us a lie."
Rebbi Yehoshua replied, "There was a mule that gave birth. A note was
hanging from it on which was written, 'My father's estate owes one hundred
They said to him, "But can a mule give birth?"
Rebbi Yehoshua said, "That is why it is a lie."
There are a number of explanations given by the commentators for this
cryptic exchange. The VILNA GA'ON, in "Perush Al Kamah Agados" (Vilna,
1840, reprinted with notations and sources by Rav Aharon Feldman, Feldheim
Publishers; see also Rav Feldman's English elucidation of the Vilna
Ga'on's commentary in "The Juggler and the King," Feldheim Publishers)
explains that the subject of the debate was the continued existence of the
Jewish people after the destruction of the Beis ha'Mikdash, and their
eventual return to Yerushalayim. The following is a summary of the Vilna
Ga'on's comments regarding the mule born with the promissory note.
Regarding "the falsity" that the Elders of Athens asked Rebbi Yehoshua to
show them, the Vilna Ga'on explains that the Gemara in Avodah Zarah (11b)
records that the Romans used to taunt the Jews by proclaiming, "The
master's reckoning is false, the brother of our master, a fraud." They
were slandering Yakov Avinu (and his descendants, the Jewish people),
proclaiming that the blessings he received from Yitzchak were false and
that Esav (and his descendants, the people of Rome) is heir to the
prominence of Yitzchak. The Gemara there quotes Rav Ashi who responded
that their own words refute them. Had they said, "The fraud -- the brother
of our master," then their words would have been understood as they
intended. However, the wording that they used -- "the brother of our
master, a fraud" -- implies that their own master is the fraud!
The Romans were proclaiming that the Jewish people have no hope of being
redeemed, and no future to anticipate. The blessings they received from
Yitzchak will not materialize. They will forever be subject to Roman
oppression, if they survive at all. Rav Ashi responded that it is the
nation of Rome that is the fraud. The Romans, and not Yitzchak or Yakov,
were speaking falsehood when they said that they, and not the Jewish
people, were the blessed nation. Similarly, when the Elders of Athens
asked Rebbi Yehoshua to show them a lie, they were asking him to show them
why the declaration of their kinsmen, that "the master's reckoning is
false," is itself a lie.
Rebbi Yehoshua responded with a metaphor about a mule. The Jewish people
are called an "Akarah" (Yeshayah 54:1), a barren woman, who -- like a mule
-- seems to be unable to bear children. During their many years of exile,
the Jews are constantly trampled and denigrated. They seem to have no hope
for the future, like the barren woman who despairs of bearing children.
The Jewish people are bereft of their children, their future.
However, there is a note of debt hanging from the mule. This debt refers
to Hashem's promise to Avraham that his offspring eventually will be
redeemed from the exile. When the time of the final redemption comes, it
will become evident to the entire world that the Jewish people are not a
barren mule, but they are a fertile nation with an illustrious future. The
"mule" will indeed give birth.
How, though, did Rebbi Yehoshua's metaphor prove to the Elders that the
final redemption was *certain* to come? Yeshayah tells us, "Sing, you
barren woman who has not given birth, for the children of the desolate
woman will be more than the children of the married woman" (Yeshayah
54:1). If she will have children, why is she called barren, and if she is
barren, why should she sing? The Gemara (Berachos 10a) explains that the
verse means, "Sing, Jewish nation, even when you are like a barren woman,
for you have not borne children who are destined for Gehinom [like the
nations of the world]." The barren woman only appears to be barren,
because her children have been exiled. She still rejoices, though, because
she knows that through their suffering in exile, they will learn to return
their hearts to their Creator and will thereby earn eternal reward and
avoid Gehinom. The very exile that caused the Romans to believe that we
will never be redeemed is itself our key to redemption. If the Jewish
nation appears hopelessly barren like a mule, it is because they have been
guaranteed a redemption. When the Elders commented that the Jewish nation
is barren ("But can a mule give birth?"), Rebbi Yehoshua responded, "That
is why it is a lie" -- that is, "It is that very fact -- our appearance,
in exile, as barren -- that will eventually prove your statement (that we
will not be redeemed) to be a lie!"